Cognitive impairment can also affect younger patients.
New research shows that many people suffering from Covid-19 infections are still suffering cognitive impairment seven months after their recovery.
This study, which details the cognitive problems that patients who were treated at Mount Sinai in New York for Covid-19, supports the growing evidence that Covid long-haulers can suffer from a variety of ailments, sometimes weeks or months later. Researchers at the Icahn school of medicine at Mount Sinai found that as many as 24% of those who have recovered from Covid-19 still experience cognitive problems, including memory, multitasking and focus issues.
Jacqueline Becker (clinical neuropsychologist, associate scientist at Icahn School for Medicine at Mount Sinai) said that “we’re seeing long term cognitive impairment across an array of age groups and diseases severity.”
The research involved 740 patients being tested by Mount Sinai. This is a New York hospital system that has been treating Covid victims since the beginning of the pandemic. Patients were aged 18 and older and spoke English and Spanish. They also had no previous dementia. The results showed that the rate of cognitive impairment was high at 7.6 months, compared to patients who had already contracted the disease.
Nearly 4 out of 4 patients have a cognitive problem that affects their ability to store new memories. Then there are problems with memory recall and storing those memories. Other problems reported included problems with processing speed and executive function, which includes the ability of to plan, organize, and make decisions.
Patients admitted to hospital were more likely than those who were treated in an emergency department. However, those who were not admitted were also more likely to develop cognitive impairments.
Similar problems are being reported at other hospitals. According to Dr. Igor Koralnik (chief of the division for neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology), some Covid patients at Northwestern Medical Center developed severe cognitive impairments, which made it impossible for them to care for themselves.
Koralnik stated, “This study confirms the findings of Northwestern that cognitive problems persist in both patients who have been hospitalized previously and in patients with mild respiratory symptoms.”
Covid brain problems in young adults
Cognitive issues are common in patients who have been so severely ill that they had to be placed on ventilators. However, it is not unusual for young patients with mild illnesses to experience cognitive problems. Koralnik stated that no one knows when or if any of these patients will be able to return to their pre-Covid-19 state.
Becker suggested that patients younger than 65 years old with mild cases of the disease should be screened for cognitive impairment.
It is heartbreaking to see patients with severe mental impairments in their 20s, 30s, and 40s,” Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA Post-Covid Clinic director and professor of psychiatry, said. Many people say they cannot function, they can’t think, their memory is impaired and they have trouble driving.
UCLA has not seen any evidence that vaccinations help Covid long-haulers. However, there have been some reports. Lavretsky stated that some people experience improvements while others remain the same or worsen.
This is a huge problem. In the United States, more than 45 million cases of coronavirus have been reported. Most people infected by Covid recover in a matter of weeks. However, many suffer from persistent symptoms.
Lavretsky stated that between 20 and 30 percent of people will experience this long-lasting reaction. This can cause serious impairment in performance, regardless of whether the situation is at school or work. A person may be able function at a lower level if they are lucky.
Therapy that helps people overcome their weaknesses is currently the only treatment available, according to Tracy Vannorsdall (associate professor of psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine).
Vannorsdall stated that therapists talk to patients about their strengths, and then create a program to teach them how to use those strengths to overcome their weaknesses.
Vannorsdall stated that these people expect to be able to return to work, their families and communities and engage in meaningful activities. They want to be their best cognitively.